It can be painful to watch kids quit. Especially when we see talent. Sometimes we hold our tongues. And sometimes we might blurt out what we are really thinking, “If you just had some grit, or cared more, or weren’t so lazy.”

why kids quit

image credit: Abby Weinstein


Unfortunately, telling a kid he shouldn’t or can’t quit rarely does much good.  Paul Tough, one of the leading authors on grit, says that we can’t teach [or implore] students to be grittier. But that also doesn’t mean we need to stand by and allow talented kids to “throw away” their gifts. Instead, we need to understand, listen, and encourage to help them choose the harder (but better) path.

Understand: It’s Natural to Want to Quit

According to evolutionary psychologists, quitting is the most natural human response when we face challenges. Most of us are hardwired to avoid failure. Only a small percent of people are born with the natural preference to pursue the potential thrill of success  over the more likely discomfort of being unsuccessful.

So how do we overcome human nature? Empathy!

Listen: Identify the Real Reason

Understand the discomfort so you can work through it. You don’t need to agree with your student’s rationale to empathize with it. Keep in mind that most students lack the self-awareness of their strengths. They might not realize how talented they are. They are also unlikely to have the perspective of why quitting might be bad for them in the long run.

Listen to their reasons, offer an alternative point of view, and hopefully help them see that there’s not as much risk in failing as they might think. And plenty of upside if they continue. It might not guarantee they grit it out, but it’s more likely to have an impact than telling them why the outcome is worth it.

Encourage: Address the Cause

There are no magic words that will convince students why their fears might be unwarranted. However, be prepared to hear the following:

  • Everyone else is better. Lack of self-confidence is probably the number one reason kids quit. We can’t tell kids to be self-confident. But our belief in them will make a difference. Remind them why you believe in them, even if they don’t believe in themselves.
  • But, I’m bad at this [one] skill.  Rather than telling them how good they are overall, openly discuss their strengths and their weaker skills. Carefully choose your words to acknowledge where they aren’t as strong–be honest, objective, and kind.  Help them see how they can use their strengths even if they do have weaknesses.
  • I don’t have time.  They might be right. In general, today’s kids are overworked and don’t get sufficient sleep. Help them budget their time so they can keep going.
  • What if… Fear of the unknown is natural. Some students imagine the worst. Help them visualize a realistic version of the future, one that includes success. Encourage them to take things one task, one day or one week at a time. Remind them you are there to lean on when things feel scary.
  • Remember the time I… Past mistakes can be haunting. We are all prone to more vividly remember our mistakes than our successes. Do your best not to bring up past mistakes unless it is constructive. And then teach students self-forgiveness. Remind them that making mistakes is an essential part of improving. And that while they might clearly remember their mistakes, it’s likely that no one else does. (Most people are too busy focusing on their own prior mishaps.)
  • No one else has… It’s natural for students to think they are the only ones struggling or that everyone else’s lives are Instagram-perfect. Sharing true stories of your own obstacles or those of former students can be extraordinarily powerful.

One of the best ways to develop self-awareness is to get a truly objective measure of strengths and needs.  Let Mindprint help.  Find out how we can help your students develop the self-awareness and self-confidence they need to be successful in school and in life.